© Barry Sweeny, 12/96

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Teachers clearly know that standardized, norm-referenced testing does not address large portions of the curriculum, and often does not address the higher level thinking skills of students. Those deficiencies are why so many teachers have invested a large amount of energy and time into development of performance assessments for use in their classrooms. Most people, however, have found learning how to develop these better assessments to be a long process, at least the few first times. Often, teachers wonder, "I hope this effort will be worth it.".

Conversations with teachers from states and schools which have been working with performance assessments for 6-8 years reveals that these "pioneers" have discovered some valuable insights about the process of developing performance assessments and of the results of using performance assessments for teaching and learning. Those of us still learning how to develop quality, authentic, performance assessments need to learn from our more experienced colleagues what they have discovered. This paper is a summary of those lessons.

1. Learning HOW TO DEVELOP QUALITY PERFORMANCE TASKS and clear, DESCRIPTIVE SCORING CRITERIA on a rubric are important first steps in an important journey. When teachers have tried to create authentic and engaging assessment activities and have done quality assessment task designing work, students find those tasks to be thought-provoking and challenging, yet understandable and attainable. The result of this is that students commit increased energy & persistence to learning.

2. The biggest obstacle to increased student learning is the ability of teachers to learn how to use and to teach students to use performance assessment. That's why the next step to a performance-based classroom is learning HOW TO USE THE PERFORMANCE TASKS in a program of integrated instruction and assessment. The more teachers look to their current instructional program for performance task ideas, the more likely it is that the resulting assessments will be used as a part of instruction rather than be seen as an intrusion on teaching and learning.

3. Another step is learning HOW TO TEACH THE SCORING CRITERIA TO STUDENTS so that the students understand exactly what quality looks like. As teachers develop, refine and reach consensus on quality tasks and scoring criteria, they learn to articulate what is important in ways that others understand. That means that developing and refining performance assessments is a good preparation for learning how to teach others about those same tasks and criteria.

4. Greater student energy and persistence in tasks is also encouraged by clear criteria since clear criteria increase student success. Understanding the criteria for quality work and continually comparing student work to those criteria means students always know "where they are" on the quality continuum and so, STUDENTS KNOW EXACTLY HOW TO IMPROVE and make progress. Success then, is not dependent on "getting it". Progress is attainable for all students, where ever they are on the quality continuum.

5. As student understanding of the criteria increases they develop greater SKILLS OF SELF-ASSESSMENT AND SELF-MONITORING. The learn, in fact, to think more "like a teacher". Not only does that way of thinking improve their learning and performance as students but they internalize critical skills for life-long learning as well. That is the biggest step of all!

6. Finally, as students learn what quality products and performances look like, as success becomes more accessible to more students and they dedicate greater effort in their work, the quality of student work does improve. And, as the quality of student work improves, it becomes EASIER FOR TEACHERS TO GRADE THE WORK. (Would you rather grade a test that is 50% correct or a test that is 95% correct?)

7. As teachers give students more projects and activities to do that student s are interested in and that they want to do, teachers find that they DO NOT NEED TO GRADE AS MUCH STUDENT WORK. In other words, teachers won't have to hold a grade over a student's head to get him to do the work.

You may print out, duplicate and distribute this material as long as it is provided for free to others and you retain these credits:
Barry Sweeny, Resources for Staff & Organization Development
26 W 413 Grand Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187, (630) 668-2605, E-mail [email protected]


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